Wherein Naruto Is a Disturber of Peace
When Uncle-sama arrived it happened with the most pomp and fanfare Naruto had ever witnessed in one place before. There were flags with the emblem of the Grass Daimyo and even ribbons, honest-to-gods ribbons in green and golden and red flying on a rose red palaquin that was surrounded by soldiers in shining armour. There were other, smaller palanquins, more modestly decorated, because clearly such an important man couldn't travel without some hanger-ons. The Aoyama villagers were having a ball, waving banners of their own and throwing bouquets and garlands at the caravan as it passed through the little main street. The good cheer was contagious and Naruto found himself hopping and waving along with everyone else, grinning so widely his cheeks were starting to ache.
Once the long-bearded men and the considerably younger, very beautiful women they were travelling with had settled in their tents - and those tents were nothing like the standard shinobi issue tents, but more like small houses made of fabric - and Uncle-sama had left for the temple, on foot and alone except for the bodyguards, the crowd began to thin and Naruto made to return to the clinic. Not that there was much anything for him to do there; he was just sitting on his ass. He really didn't think he would be allowed to try and talk to Uncle-sama, though, and the court yes-men didn't interest him. The women could be counted upon to at least be interesting company, but the yes-men probably wouldn't like it if Naruto started hanging around them. He could only get away with that if he was a woman...
If he was a woman. Contrary to what most people thought, Naruto was actually capable of telling when he was hit with an inspiration that was guaranteed to be only marginally less trouble than it was worth. The thing was, marginally and less were the key words there; it was still worth it and Naruto ran all the way to the clinic to go through his packs.
"I'm back and I'm going to... wait, are you going to be alright on your own here?" his greeting turned into a question as he bumped into Isamu who was actually sitting up and in the kitchen, playing cards with his students and probably teaching them to cheat for all they were worth. Iruka-sense had given that lesson to Naruto, after swatting him over the head and telling him that he couldn't trust his insane luck, that if he was going to insist on playing from money, he should at least do it right.
"The seals on this house are very extensive. I believe we will be alright," Isamu said dryly, though he gave his genin a worried look. "I'm surprised someone as young as you could make them."
"It wasn't me. Jiraiya's an incurable pervert, but he really knows his stuff," Naruto snorted. He found it a little insulting that Jiraiya had warded the house not only against people with developed chakra pathways and fire, but also sudden dimensional displacement, noxious fumes, Edo Tensei and hordes of locusts.
Just what kind of stuff he thought Naruto was going to mixed up with? Bring back one former student of Orochimaru and never hear the end of it.
"What are you going to do?" Maaya asked him, switching one of the cards in her hand with one in her sleeve while her teammates were paying attention to Naruto. He valiantly resisted the urge to wink at her.
"I am going to cross-dress. What do you think goes better with blonde hair, light blue or purple," he said with straight face and smiled beatifically when Musume and Kazuo turned to stare at him, their jaws hanging Isamu looked a bit disturbed. "What? I am secure enough in my manliness to wear a dress," he complained and Maaya switched two other cards.
"What kind of image are you trying to project here? Plum goes well with the sultry seductress look and blue is more an innocent country girl kind of thing," she said, and a good point. Naruto wanted to look like someone who actually lived in Aoyama so plum silk was right out.
He had perfected several versions of his Oiroke no Jutsu over the time and most of those bore little resemblance to the original one. Naruko had gotten herself a whole gaggle of little sister; Naru, Narue, Naruha, Naruho and Narumi, and out of them Naruto picked Naruha. She had smaller breats than Naruko and her hair was shorter, only just reaching the shoulders. Her face was smooth and markless as well and he usually wore simple, but pretty clothes and no make-up when he pretended to be her. Now he pulled a simple blue sun dress from his pack and put it on before making the hand seal, concentrating.
Oiroke was, at the heart, an illusionary technique; it didn't physically transform him into a woman. What it did was to convince even his own senses that he was now in possession of a very different set of genitals and several pouns less muscle mass. Naruto could have sworn he really was a girl now if Jiraiya hadn't managed to reverse-engineer the jutsu and figure out how it in truth worked.
"Hi there, Naruha. I'm going to be you for a little while if you don't mind," he said. Naruha smiled to him from the small hand mirror and waved a little. She looked really pretty and fun in a way that didn't intimidate anyone, just perfect for this; when Naruto went as her twin Naruho, boys would only sigh and look away while girls looked like they were contemplating on good places to hide bodies.
"Alright, there has to be some chores I can do there and hang around. I bet I can pour people tea if nothing else works."
Naruto had never been one to beat around the bush so he had simply walked to the tents and struck up a conversation with the first girl he came across, a really classical-looking beauty with inky black hair done up in several incredibly complicated-looking loops and bundles, but Naruto actually had some experience with those from fixing Miwa and Mariko's hair a few times back in Makimura. When he happened to mention this, he found himself absconded with so fast his head was left spinning.
As it turned out, those complicated-looking loops really were complicated if you didn't have ninja finger dexterity from handling multitudes of small, sharp, pointy things as well as exploding, sharp pointy things and making hand signs faster than civilian eye could follow. Because of this the women couldn't actually do them without help from a hairdresser and because going to one every day was just such a hassle, they used gel to basically glue those things in place and only took their hair down and washed it every three days and they had to sleep with this weird wooden neck supporter so their hair didn't touch the bed and flatten. Naruto wasn't sure why they bothered with the whole deal at all when long, flowing, free hair was so much more beautiful anyway, but he was content enough to do the hair washing and give scalp massages before redoing their hairdos.
"Yukimura-danna has been so worried lately," a girl named Mineko told him/her, sighing contently white Naruto wetted her hair, careful to not get any water on her kimono. It was a bit complicated to do the washing over a bowl of water, but Naruto really didn't want to take advantage because there was no way any of them would strip in front of him if they knew that he was actually a he. "He is supposed to advice the Honourable Uncle, who in turn will advice Daimyo-sama; it is a big responsibility. With the followers of this new religion, Narutoism, popping up everywhere they are just so tense."
"Why is that?" Naruto asked, his eyes wide. Iruka-sensei always said that eavesdroppers never heard anything good of themselves...
"It is something about the jinchuuriki. I don't really understand what they are, but it makes the hidden village tense and a tense hidden village makes for a tense court. The Grass Country is sandwiched between the Fire and the Sand and those are allies now, and Sand's Kage is rumoured to be a jinchuuriki as well. People think they might be plotting to conquer and split up the three buffer countries. We were only established as independent countries recently, you know, because after the Second Great War things were so very strained and, well. Rain might have a chance, but Grass and Waterfall are pretty much between the hammer and the anvil here - and we don't even know if we can trust Waterfall because some say they have a jinchuuriki too! It seems like everyone has one except us."
It was really disquieting feeling, like a giant finger had suddenly pointed at Naruto and a great, forbidding voice had yelled: YOU are a disturber of peace! He had known Narutoism made the other jinchuuriki villages nervous, but he had never considered how the smaller ones might take it and that was... pretty damn awkward to face.
"I don't think things are as bad as that. The five great villages don't really trust each others a lot, except for Konoha and Suna, so Iwa, Kiri and Kumo are bound to be even more suspicious than Kusa and I bet that if Konoha tried any military venture and took the forces to the east, they would pounce as a pre-emptive measure," he tried to comfort the girl without otright saying that Konoha had no designs on Grass' independence whatsoever, because then he would have had to explain what made him think so and, well. He really didn't think that revealing he was Naruto and had sneaked into Uncle-sama's camp under false identity was going to reassure anyone of anything.
But he had to do something. Maybe if he went to meet Uncle-sama as Naruto and befriended the man. It wasn't going to help those wisecracks about S-class Offensive Friendship Brainwashing Technique he got from everyone, but nevermind that. This was his doing so the least he could do was to convince Uncle-sama that he really wasn't angling to invade his country. And this wouldn't help him to meet Fuu-chan, but maybe Gaara could. Hmm.
The twilight had already fallen, but Hozokawa Narihiro still remained in the little shrine, deep in thought. His knees were hurting from sitting on them for so long and frankly he was sick with being expected to give his nephew advice when the man was over ten years older than he was. He was also utterly sick with Narutoism, but what was he supposed to do? Since he had been but a seven years old boy his teachers had told him and told him how precarious Grass' situation was. The country had long and proud history as the empire that had ruled the entire continent, but those days were long since past. It's younger and more full-blooded neigbours, its former provinces, had eaten bits and pieces of it and ultimately even the last hold-out had lost a war and lost its independence. After the Second Great Shinobi War the Grass Country had been re-established as a buffer country between the Fire and the Wind, but in the Third War it had been walked all over, its stronger neighbours not respecting its borders.
The ninja of the Kusagakure no Sato were strong, but the cold truth was that in a war steel must break and blood must flow to the ground and they didn't have the numbers, couldn't afford the steel and blood it would take to defend against Konoha and Suna.
"And why am I supposed to do this anyway?" he snapped at the serenely smiling Old Man of the South, the patron god of the shrine, as the cold, hard knot at the bottom of his stomach unfurled explosively. He had dignifiedly drunk ceremonial cups of sake with important officials until his brain was spinning and tried to make heads or tails from the advice of his own advisors who couldn't agree on anything for three weeks straight now and some of his nephew's other advisors had started making truly alarming suggestions. "What if my nephew decides that political marriage is the way to resolve this? I am not ready to be a father, I am going to be a horrible father! My son is going to get some woman pregnant at sixteen because I didn't hug him enough and use drugs and I am going to be raising my grandchild and ruin him too. And what if I actually have to convert as a diplomatic concession? I would probably be indoctrinated and then I would dethrone my nephew and then my political enemies would assassinate me and Konoha would come to "pacify" the situation!"
"Um, is this a bad moment? Because the ramen isn't going to stay hot and I once used a fire jutsu to re-heat a cup and that didn't work out very well," a young voice called from behind his back and Narihiro turned around, his ears burning with blush and angry words burning on his tongue, but the sight in front of him left him wordless. There was a boy who couldn't be older than sixteen and might have been younger, dressed in bright orange and holding a still-steaming bowl full of beef ramen in his hands. His hair was wheat yellow and there were some kind of markings on his...face... and those looked...
Narihiro had once seen a picture of Uzumaki Naruto. It had been a religious wood carving and as such not really a good likeness to the one standing in front of him - it had made the shinobi-saint look middle-aged - but it had shown those markings and that was a Leaf hitai-ite on the boy's brow.
"You may have caught up with me at a moment that isn't one of my proudest, but I will not beg," he gritted between his teeth and stood straighter, his heart hammering in his chest and his palms sweating. He had to grip his hakama to hide how his hands were shaking, too. He didn't want to die, he really, really didn't want to die, but he was a Hozokawa nobleman and he was not going to bring shame to his ancestors. He was not!
"I don't want to kill you! And don't worry, I don't want to marry you either, I'm not into guys - not that there is anything wrong with that, but I'm just not, okay - and I don't even know you. And Miwa-chan isn't going to want to marry you either, Idate finally managed to convince her to go out with her a month or so ago, he sent me a letter," the boy, Uzumaki Naruto, said and thrust the cup of ramen into his hands. He accepted it without conscious thought, blinking dumbly.
"What?" he asked, disbelieving and scared. His guards would come if only he yelled loud enough, but he really didn't think they would get there in time to even witness his death.
"And I don't want to convert you either. I mean, you can if you want to, I'm sure you would make a kick-ass cultist and I'm not disparaging your supreme religious zeal, what with travelling this far regularly and stuff. But Konoha doesn't want any kind of concessions and we are not going to invade anywhere except maybe Oto and those bastards deserve it anyway."
"What? he asked.
"Well, they invaded us first and Old Man Sandaime was killed, they had already assassinated the Kazekage at that point and then Orochimaru stole Sasuke so at this point it would be justified retribution. You should just eat the ramen before it cools. Giving people things to eat is supposed to be a non-threatening gesture and I promise it isn't going to explode, ignore those rumours!" Uzumaki-san rubbed his head and smiled sheepishly as Narihiro opened and closed his mouth, then opened and closed it again; he was unable to even force the one-word question out. But why would a bowl of ramen explode, he wondered and the smell of it hit his nose. He realized all of a sudden that he hadn't eaten anything the whole day but the breakfast that morning and his stomach let out a frankly embarrassing growl.
Well, if this was indeed Uzumaki Naruto, he was hardly going to have to resort to poison to kill a court officer alone in a country shrine - and maybe this was the answer he had prayed for, the chance to at least hear out the other side of the story. Whatever Uzumaki-san had to say couldn't possibly be any less useful than what he had to make his decisions by at the moment. The bowl of ramen in his hands was peasant food, cheap and of little nutritional value and it smelled heavenly.
"Thank you for this meal," he said formally and knelt down again, setting the bowl on the floor. Uzumaki-san gave him a blinding smile and sat down next to him.
"You are welcome, ramen can make everything better in my opinion. If you wanted to meet with the Hokage and the Kazekage in a less formal setting, you could go to the chuunin exams they held in Suna, there is always a lot of unofficial talking during those. And maybe you could hire the Taki jinchuuriki as your bodyguard, just request her by the name and be prepared to pay a lot. Her name is Hoshino Fuu, you could get to know her too. We really are just people like everyone else, you know," Uzumaki-san proposed and it was the most egregiously audacious suggestion of holding a clandestine meeting with the shinobi powers of three foreign nations Narihiro had ever heard. It was the only, too, but that was beside the point. He couldn't decide if Uzumaki-san was simply obfuscating or if he really was, well, powerful shinobi weren't crazy, they were eccentric.
And apparently stalking him; Aoyama was a suspiciously well-picked place to seek him out and there was no way he was accepting this meeting as a coincidence.
They arrived to Aoyama as the sun was beginning to reach the zenith. Yamato-san could have driven them harder than this, but not much harder and Karin approved. They were going to need some time to practice their team work before they hit the exams. Not that she doubted their ability to pass, but this was the chance to start making the Uzumaki name big again and she wasn't going to accept anything less than perfection for and from Naruto.
"I-I too want things to be perfect when I me-meet Naruto-kun again," Hinata whispered twiddling her thumbs and Karin honestly didn't know what to think, In one hand, the girl had a bloodline, was filthy rich, beautiful, she was healthy and clearly head over heels for Naruto. In the other hand, there was his clan and that disgusting Caged Bird Seal to deal with. If Naruto's children inherited the Byakugan, the Hyuuga main branch elders would demand that the children be sealed because they would be Uzumaki and not Hyuuga (and Karin wasn't going to accept anything less.) Sealing them would be completely unacceptable, which would mean that they would have to assassinate the elders and that kind of thing was always dangerous business and would make things very awkward between Naruto and Hinata.
Why couldn't Hiashi just get some balls and do away with those fossils himself? He had tried to get rid of the seal since it was applied to his brother and all for nothing just because it was in the clan's founding charter. The elders weren't going to budge and the clan head shouldn't have to put up with that kind of shit. What was being a clan head good for if he did?
Oh, well, maybe Kabuto would have some kind of blackmail on them; she would have to ask when she returned to Konoha.
They arrived to Aoyama to find the place had become the setting of some kind of Grass Country noble outing, complete with long-bearded and -robed, very dignified men and elegant women clad in the finest silks, all very much out of place in the rural village.
"I just know that this has to do with Uzumaki," Yamato said and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Of course this couldn't remain a simple mission."
They happened upon Naruto on their way to the clinic. He wasn't wearing his head band and he had some of the soldiers that had escorted the caravan stalking him very badly. He was clearly uncomfortable, but he was nice enough to not call them up on their act. Instead he called for Hinata the moment he saw her waving with wide swishes of his hand, but it was when he laid eyes upon Karin that his own widened.
"Are you Karin?" he asked, suddenly standing right by their side. Karin felt the same emotion that was shining in her cousin's eyes constricting her throat.
"Yes, now hug hug me, stupid," she hissed, embarrassed and determined to not show it, and Naruto didn't have to be told twice. His grip was strong enough to press all air out of her lungs, but she held on just as tight. He smelled like ramen, sweat, some sweet confections and the oil all Konoha nin used with heir blades that clung to the whole hidden village like a shroud. She couldn't feel even the slightest hint of Kyuubi's chakra among his; the seal must be holding well.
"I have waited forever to have real family. I have a lot of special people, but that's really not the same. They have families that aren't mine and that makes a diffrence," he said and thrust Karin at a hand's length away before there were spots dancing in her eyes, grinning like a fool and Karin was sharing the same grin. It was true, she had made some few friends in Oto and she had left them all to be with the man she had chosen as her future husband and gotten her cousin out of the deal as well. They were blood, the two of them, and no power in the world could ever make them not blood. Oh gods, it felt so much more real now. She. Had. Family. Family that was so, so very precious in a very cruel and perilous world and to be protected at all costs.
That this feeling was why Hyuuga Hiashi couldn't kill his family elders despite the deep rift between them was irony that, of course, completely escaped her.
"Hey, Hinata-chan, it's nice to see you too," Naruto said as he turned to give the girl a hug. Hinata turned first beet red, then blood-loss pale and her white eyes rolled even whiter as her body went limp in Naruto's arms.
Yamato would have liked it stated for the record's sake that he wasn't happy. At all. The entire thing, it turned out, was indeed Naruto's fault, though not in a way that he had anticipated.
"Grass thinks we are going to invade them?" he asked with a voice that strained to remain quiet. A little to the left a woman fussed with her three children and a man walked past carrying a huge basket of fresh bread. They didn't hear hadn't learned to pay attention and Yamato wasn't going to make them pay attention by using his terrifying face on Naruto, never mind how tempted he was. Not where easily frightened civilians could see at least.
"No, Grass is trying to figure out if we will, but I think I managed to convince Uncle-sama that we aren't because he was talking to me about buying his actually-younger-niece a birthday present towards the end, she's this really cute ten-year-old, Now he just needs to convince his nephew to give the talk a shot and since they are pretty much running in circles and trying to not panic, I don't think that will be hard," Naruto explained as they walked towards the clinic. People were giving them curious looks, measuring them, trying to work out their relation to each others. None of them were wearing their hitai-ite or their weapons openly because this was one of Jiraiya's hidey-holes - though Yamato had to wonder how long it had been since the Toad Sannin had last been in Aoyama if he didn't know of this Uncle-sama's pilgrimage habit. How embarrassing.
"I just don't think he cared," Naruto confessed. "I guess he didn't think he would have the time to come here with everyone panicking in the capital, though that still makes me wonder why he left me in this whole country. And I wonder what's going on in Water now..." It must have been something important, Yamato concluded, because this screamed desperation decision. And it could have worked, should have worked if it was anyone but Naruto.
"And you found out about this because you pretended to be a female hairdresser? Which you did because you were bored?" He was feeling more and more respect towards his former sempai for ensuring Naruto even survived to be apprenticed in the first place. He wasn't a bad fighter, but for fire's sake, the situations he got into! There was no way the Godaime wasn't aware of the unrest in Grass and she was surely doing her best to open talks with the Daimyo and now Naruto had just bypassed the issue; Yamato didn't even know if he should be angry or grateful.
"Ah, yeah, my clone is there even now because the girls got attached to her. I think they are giving her make-up tips. And there is one more thing." Naruto stopped in front of the clinic and made very earnest puppy-dog eyes at Yamato. "They were chased by this missing-nin, Taki's our ally and these genin are just little kids! And Maaya's Fuu's cousin, she's the Taki jinchuuriki. Fuu, that is, not Maaya, and the bandage lady was trying to extort her safe house's location out of them, she might be after me as well. And I'm going to give you a real report right away, but just don't kill anyone first, please."